Climate Initiatives takes bold, innovative and collaborative actions to create systemic change that equitably addresses the global climate crisis and ensures quality of life in Boulder and beyond.
The City of Boulder is deeply committed to addressing challenges of climate change and has been taking meaningful action since our community’s first Climate Action Plan was approved in 2006. Boulder continues to be a recognized leader in climate action, and our efforts to respond to the challenges associated with climate change gives us an opportunity to come together to create a community that is healthier, safer, equitable and resilient. The Climate Initiatives Department supports our community’s values and adopted policy goals by:
- Prioritizing equity in climate action planning;
- Developing and implementing climate action programs and strategies;
- Conducting ongoing assessment, monitoring and reporting of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and other pollutants;
- Increasing the recapture of atmospheric carbon dioxide in living systems;
- Reducing material consumption and associated emissions through increased recycling and waste diversion;
- Coordinating and supporting other municipal and community sustainability activities;
- Advocating for progressive climate, resilience and sustainability-related policies at the local, state and federal levels; and
- Supporting city and community-led efforts that increase resilience, social justice and sustain a healthy local environment.
Climate Initiatives primarily focuses on local and regional climate action strategies guided by the city’s Climate Targets. These targets were adopted in October 2021:
- Reduce emissions by 70% by 2030 when compared against a 2018 baseline;
- Become a net-zero city by 2035; and
- Become a carbon-positive city by 2040.
Since 2005 (based on 2021 data), the city has reduced its GHG emissions by 30% and diverted 44% of its waste from landfills. Data from 2022 will be available on Boulder Measures in Fall 2023.
Climate Initiatives realizes its mission through strategic investment in a combination of regulatory and voluntary programs and by facilitating broad community and stakeholder engagement. The department’s work calls for transformational changes, partnerships and bold climate policies that recognize the importance of systems-level changes while continuing to support individual actions and behavior change. This increases the city’s effectiveness in climate, sustainability and resilience-related efforts within our local community and across our region. These efforts are supported by many strategic partnerships that inform climate and sustainability policy and programs. Partners include Colorado Communities for Climate Action (CC4CA), University of Colorado, Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), Boulder County, Colorado Recycles, other cities, and state and federal agencies and legislators. Regional efforts help set the city’s state and federal policy agenda related to climate and sustainability, which in turn supports changes to legislation and regulations. The city also partners with national and international organizations – such as the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (CNCA), the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), the Resilient Cities Network and others – to advance the community’s goals.
In 2024, Climate Initiatives will continue to work with the community to center equity, build resilience and expand our focus to improve our public lands. The goals and strategies identified in the 2024 workplan are designed to address the accelerated urgency of a changing climate, as detailed in the city’s 2019 Declaration on the Climate Crisis and supported by the most recent reports from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Despite our efforts to reduce carbon pollution, we need to ensure Boulder is prepared for the impacts of a changing global climate. Therefore, departmental workplan items focus more explicitly on resilience, equity and climate justice.
Funding sources for the Climate Initiatives department include the Climate Tax Fund and a dedicated portion of the General Fund. The Climate Tax Fund is supported through a voter-approved Climate Tax. This new tax was authorized by voters in 2022 and replaced the previous Climate Action Plan and Utility Occupation taxes beginning in 2023. The General Fund portion is comprised of one voter-approved funding source, the Trash Tax.
Operating Budget (FY2022-24)
Climate Initiatives’ Administration program supports the department’s work groups with administrative tasks including budget development and tracking, scheduling of department items to be presented to council, processing deconstruction documentation, contract development and payments. The administrative needs of the Environmental Advisory Board are also supported through this program.
The Circular Economy (CE) team works with key partners, the Boulder community and city departments to accelerate the transition to a circular economy, reducing the generation of waste from the beginning and keeping materials circulating at their highest value for as long as possible. This is done through a combination of policy development, education, pilot programs, incentives, investments in zero-waste facilities and technical assistance. Key focus areas include building deconstruction waste recycling and reuse, accelerating consumer reuse systems, improving the circularity of the organics economy, supporting materials end market development, and bringing zero-waste services to manufactured and affordable housing communities in Boulder.
While the city has long prioritized hazard mitigation and wildfire response, the climate crises and the numerous fire-related events over the past ten years have prioritized the need to expand community planning, preparedness, response and recovery efforts. The issue of climate-related resilience, especially in the context of wildfire, has become an urgent citywide need and priority. The new and expanded Climate Tax includes an annual appropriation for wildfire related efforts which affords the opportunity to implement identified enhancements in the city’s wildfire resilience efforts related to Resilient Landscapes, Fire-Adapted Communities and Safe and Effective Wildfire Response. A cross-departmental team is responsible for evaluating annual program enhancements related to wildfire resilience for out years and creates recommendations as part of annual city budget process.
In Climate Initiatives, the design principles of equity and resilience guide the development of existing and future programming. Some of the departmental efforts do not fit squarely in the focus areas of energy systems, nature-based climate solutions and circular economy. These “cross-cutting” climate programs and projects that tend to be more fluid and respond to the needs of the community and key partners. Many of these programs center around engaging with key climate justice and equity-based community partners such as the Climate Justice Collaborative (CJC), Boulder Housing Partners (BHP), and the FLOWS program based out of the University of Colorado. Additionally, the department plays a strong supporting role to other city departments in departmental and citywide climate and sustainability-related efforts in the form of funding or staff support. Data management and tracking the impact of the departmental efforts falls into the cross-cutting climate programs as well.
Energy Systems efforts entail working with Boulder businesses, residents and key partners to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve resilience through energy efﬁciency, local renewable energy development, and building and transportation electrification. This is done through a combination of education, incentives, technical assistance and regulatory requirements. Existing strategies are designed to support residents’ and businesses’ ability to reduce environmental impact, reduce costs, become more resilient to the impacts felt from a changing climate, and become more inclusive and equitable.
The Nature-based Climate Solutions (NbCS) team works with both public and private sector landowners and managers to develop and implement actions that capture and cycle carbon into living ecosystems in ways that contribute to climate stabilization and enhance critical ecosystem services that increase resilience to climate change. Key focus areas include utilizing urban forestry and other urban landscape management strategies to reduce urban heat extremes, particularly in historically marginalized and vulnerable segments of the community; reducing wildfire risk, improving the ability of terrestrial systems to store water and carbon; and managing habitats to improve biodiversity, overall ecological health and resilience, and as a natural means to pest control.